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Austen Sherman

Austen Sherman is a student at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University, and is also currently working toward a degree in Economics at the W.P. Carey School of Business. He has interned at the Arizona Republic Business section and will resume there this summer while working at the Donald W. Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism. He is traveling to China this summer for an international business journalism course and has been put in charge of the blog for the overseas program.


SB 1070 heats up Arizona business coverage

azcentral.com immigration slideshow

Photos by Nick Oza /The Arizona Republic

As the summer heats up in Arizona the debate over the controversial immigration bill, SB 1070, has kept pace.

Federal district court judge  Susan Bolton has until July 29 to make the decision on whether or not the bill is constitutional.  If the bill holds up it will take affect at 12:01 a.m. on July 29.

Bolton’s decision certainly has a much greater impact than the news stories it generates, but the issue certainly is the driving force this week behind coverage for Arizona publications.  The controversy extends to each and every section of coverage.  It has provided a unique opportunity for me this week.

The experience I have had over at The Arizona Republic has been priceless.  I have had the opportunity to cover a number of stories, two of which landed on the front page, which focused on the recovery of the Phoenix economy and the economic impact of losing Tempe Town Lake.  However, as with the majority of day-to-day business coverage my work is done at a desk that receives more than a few phone calls.

However, this week with the expectation of the SB 1070 going into effect, I get to hit the streets to find out exactly how quickly and how dramatically it may impact the Arizona workforce and economy.  While my assignment is only a small share of the extensive coverage that the business section is looking to provide, it is exciting nonetheless.

I will be spending the mornings this week looking at different locations throughout the Valley that generally have day laborers waiting for potential work.  I will be returning to those same locations Thursday morning if the law takes affect to see what the immediate impact is on these workers who are possibly illegal immigrants in the state.

Whether you agree or disagree with the position the judge eventually takes, the impact of her decision will be HUGE.

As we move into an economic recovery, the impact this could have on the state in terms of production, workforce, boycotts, etc. is potentially very damaging.  It will be interesting to see how it plays out.  Be sure to check out azcentral.com throughout the week for evolving coverage on one of the biggest stories of the year.


Asher Price shares the inside scoop on the environmental beat

Asher Price writes for his newspaper's green blog, "Salsa Verde"

Asher Price covers the environmental beat for the Austin American-Statesman. He talked to us about the challenges and rewards of reporting on one of the hottest topics around.

How did you get your start on the environmental beat?

“I had been a general assignment reporter at the Austin American-Statesman for a couple of years. It was good, interesting work, but I found myself skating from story to story. I was looking for a beat to develop depth to my reporting, and the environmental beat happened to have opened up at the time.”

Why is it important to have a reporter assigned to the environmental beat in a newsroom?

“It makes for interesting and sometimes important stories – profiles about what crazy things people are doing to get off the grid or stories that explain the intersection of money and politics and energy. By having an environmental beat, the paper is showing that it is serious about engaging in complex issues.

“The environmental beat is especially significant in Austin, which sits by a large underground aquifer and by a region that has numerous endangered species. On an everyday level, environmental issues affect all of us – in terms of air and water quality, say – and our readers are interested in these issues.

With the oil industry so large in Texas, how is the BP spill impacting your coverage?

“In an odd way, the BP oil spill feels a little distant from Austin. Our city is at least a three-hour drive to the Gulf, and then it’s the wrong part of the Gulf from the spill. We’ve been grappling with how to write about it. I’ve written about the state’s spending and response historically to spills in Texas waters.

Asher Price, an environmental reporter for the Austin American-Statesman

How have you seen environmental reporting change as the topic becomes more mainstream?

I’ve had the environmental beat for four years, and in that time it hasn’t changed much, frankly. It’s possible it’s gotten more attention — especially when the price of oil spiked a couple of years ago — but my sense is that by the beginning of this decade it was already a hot topic.”

What do you hope readers take away from your stories?

“Mostly I hope they’ll be engaged a little more on a topic and see a little more nuance to it. So much information we get is bifurcated into good/bad or yes/no, often promulgated by advocacy groups of one stripe or another. On political stories, I hope they understand there’s invariably a relationship between money, power and policy, and on lighter stories I hope they’re entertained.”


Confidence in journalism biz comes with a little uncertainty

SABEW Society American Business Editors Writers

SABEW’s Warren Watson says that while confidence is growing in the business journalism industry, uncertainty continues to linger.  In  his most recent article on SABEW.org, Watson gives journalists a little more to think about, making sure that optimism doesn’t overcome reality.

A recent study released by the Reynolds Center suggests that the confidence is there amongst journalists throughout the nation, it is even referenced in the article.

Watson also takes a look Gannett, who is expanding their business coverage in a number of publications across the country.

However, he makes sure to focus on the fact that while the recovery process is moving along, it is moving slowly.  Advertising is growing, but revenues are still below pre-recession levels despite often beating projected goals.

A large portion of the uncertainty comes from the questions still surrounding media’s move to the Internet.  A move that Drew Davis, the president of the American Press Institute, compares to the gas lamp industry in Watson’s article.

No matter if you are more confident or uncertain, Watson believes we are all left scratching our heads…


Financial Times planning new online service

This past weekend, there was some Twitter chatter about Pearson PLC, the owner of the Financial Times creating a new service that will be a spin-off from the main FT.com site. The tweet, which was retweeted by several British journalists, invited applications for the new site, fttilt.com.

According to the site FT Tilt is a new service that will be launching sometime later this year.  It is being developed by the same team that created the award winning financial blog, FT Alphaville.  The new service will be directed towards a “specialist audience of finance professionals,” while providing lively “news and analysis.”

The site currently has little else as far as way of explanation, simply saying “This is a start-up venture under the FT’s umbrella. As such it offers frontline experience in developing a new digital media service from scratch.”

Paidcontent.org said that when FT was contacted for further information they would not add much more detail.  Only that they will “probably have something to say at the end of the year.”

Applicants are being directed to inquire at jobs@fttilt.com.  The site has positions both pertaining to writers and editors, and user interface engineers.

Alphaville is a part of FT.com that is update throughout the day.  Features include a blog and live market discussion.  A section known as “The Long Room” offer a more in-depth analysis, while “The Cut” provides daily headlines from New York, London, and Hong Kong.  It is currently outside of the Financial Times paid access model.


Got hold of a good story? Book it!

Craig Pittman Book It!

Craig Pittman shares tips on turning a beat into a book. Photo by Robin J. Phillips

Craig Pittman from the St. Petersburg Times came back for the final presentation during lunch.  Pittman is the author of two books, Paving Paradise and Manatee Insanity. Both books originated from a story that he was working on, making him an ideal person to help teach how to turn story ideas in to a book!

This presentation was full of tips and suggestions on how the creation of a book generally works, from start to finish.  Needless to say it is not the easiest thing to do, as about 190,000 books are published every year in the United States.  However, Pittman was sure to encourage everyone as there are millions of readers waiting, and just one reader’s praise can make it worthwhile.  Below is a summary of his notes and tips for everyone who is interested!

Based on a true story:

  1. Be sure to save all of your notes.
  2. Include all the details you had to leave out of your story.
  3. Build a timeline.
  4. Look for “scenes” as you gather your notes.

New tools for research:

  1. In the old days research was limited to microfilm and library stacks.
  2. Today Google News Archive and Google Books are two great places to start.

Tackling a big job:

  1. Break it in to smaller jobs.
  2. Outline the book in to jobs, then outline each chapter.
  3. Think of each chapter as  story and start plugging away.

Sweat the details:

  1. When writing non-fiction this is particularly important.
  2. Proof your text, preferably with more than one set of eyes.
  3. Footnotes – remember there are a number of different styles.
  4. Remember you have to do the index.
  5. Be sure to get permission for any photos, maps, song lyrics, etc.

Marketing (or what Pittman called “the necessary evil”)

  1. Don’t count on newspaper reviews.
  2. Look to TV and radio who are looking for guests.
  3. Contact book stores, libraries, book clubs, etc.
  4. Make use of the internet (create a website, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon)

Obviously each author will run in to issues of their own along the way, but these tips are a great start for anyone who is looking to turn a headline in to a story book ending.


Tracking the toll of development on water from East to West

Shuan McKinnon water journalist

Shaun McKinnon writes about climate for the Arizona Republic

This session was taught by Shaun McKinnon of the Arizona Republic and Craig Pittman of the St. Petersburg Times, two award-winning reporters.

The very first issue addressed, was the fact that water has a much greater economic impact than many people realized.  What made this most interesting was to see two entirely different climates (wetlands and desert) encountering similar issues.

Here in Phoenix it was an issue of water supply.  To create new housing developments and small suburbs there must be a 100-year supply of renewable water, however nearly none of it can come from the ground.

In response to this developments can sign up with a groundwater replenishment program and use groundwater.  A charge is given to the homeowners in the area (something small, less than $100 a year) and then the replenishment program “recharges” the aquifer, so that on paper there will be a “net zero” as far as water lost.

However, truthfully those numbers do not equal zero and the amount of money required to run this program will continue to rise as more developments are created.  The cost of the program will eventually rise, and the damage to the AZ water supply are both something homeowners will have to deal with.

Pittman had a similar story of “restoration” in Florida.  The series of work he did has now become a book titled Paving Paradise.

Between 1999 and 2003 over 12,000 permits were approved for building on wetlands, only one was denied.  Mitigation banking was seen as a way to make sure there would be no wetland losses.  As long as a wetland was restored somewhere else they could destroy the one they wanted to build on.  Similar to the “net zero” results in the water program in Arizona.

However, during Pittman’s research he was able to find that many banks were managing to give away these credits for dry land.  One back had 90% of its credits from dry land!

The same is happening with an area that is the habitat for the Florida Panther, the most endangered mammal east of the Mississippi river.

To find this information Pittman worked a long time going through paperwork and satellite images to determine what the facts were.  In working such an in-depth story he had three pieces of advice for journalists.

1.  Learn how to use spreadsheets, build them, analyze them, etc.

2.  Type your notes and interviews as soon as possible.  (Pittman even has his as a part of a wiki to make them searchable and easy to access later on)

3.  Create a timeline when you start and build on it as your story develops.

Just another great example that business lurks in every aspect of the news and in every aspect of the environment.


Eating your greens: Serving up sustainability

Steve Short, CEO Atlasta

Steve Short, CEO of Atlasta, shared his thoughts on sustainable food and business.

Lunch was delicious, a buffet style table full of chicken pesto sandwiches, sliced beef tenderloin sandwiches, fresh greens with caesar or raspberry vinaigrette dressing, different types of breads and cheeses, and pasta and potato salad.  However, the best part about it may have been the two speakers.  (Not to take anything away from the food of course)

Steve Short, the CEO of Atlasta Catering & Event Concepts in Phoenix, spoke about the evolution of his company.  How at first it was simply about the bottom line, but within the last few years he has worked to make it sustainable.  In fact, Short claims his company may be as little as two years away from being a zero waste food business.  He was joined by Colin Tetreault, the director of sustainability at Atlasta who has a Master of Art’s from the School of Sustainability at Arizona State University.

At first glance it seems odd to think of how food, sustainability and business coverage may converge.  However, within minutes of the presentation it became pretty clear.

Tetreault provided some stats from McDonalds, and their production.  This type of information could be gathered on just about any business and it is pretty fascinating.

These numbers are for worldwide production:

  • 75 burgers a second are sold
  • Equalling approximately 1,296,000 pounds of ground beef per day
  • A 2,000 lb steer yields about 400 lbs of ground beef
  • That equals approximately 3,240 cows in a day
  • It requires 8 lbs of feed for every 1lb of beef produced

A number of different story ideas could be generated from these numbers.

According to these two gentlemen there is often quite a bit of confusion involved with “going green” in the food business.  Organic certifications can be very confusing, coming in a number of different levels.  Even at a local farmers market products shouldn’t be labeled “organic” as it is a copyrighted part of FDA regulation.  Stories could focus on that confusion, the certification process, and the legitimacy of the certifications.

A story could focus on genetically modified organisms.  What are the pros and cons?  Is there a lack of labeling and awareness to these sorts of products?  Obviously with a population of 6.8 billion it almost seems to be a necessity, and for the first time over 50 percent of that population are living in urban areas.

The growth in popularity for organic products is leading to a change in the use of  land as farming practices must be altered.  It changes the transportation, production, and consumption of these products.

Company profiles on local businesses striving to do the same as Atlasta.  So often businesses to the least they can for simple advertisement.  “Going green” at a restaurant often means changing the lightbulbs, but many companies out there are looking to make a difference and are waiting to be found!


Summer business journalism interns

After taking you around the globe to China, we will be taking you across the country this summer.  There are 12 students from the Cronkite School all around the United States participating in business journalism internships.  Each student will look to contribute and share with you the tips and tricks they learn, as long as any successes or failures they may encounter.  Please feel free to share any suggestions or encouragement you may have for any of us.

Interns are placed at the following organizations:

- Bloomberg News

- CNNMoney.com Video

- Los Angeles Times

- Thomson Reuters

- Phoenix Business Journal

- MarketWatch

- Houston Chronicle

- Arizona Republic

- MSNBC.com



My Final Post… For Now

Sorry for the long break between posts and the sudden group of them posted at once.  Shanghai was faster paced and possibly even busier than the time we spent in Beijing.  As of now we are in the Beijing airport after flying here from Shanghai.  We have another two hours before we board, and then an 11-hour flight to Seattle.  That will be followed by another three-hour layover, before our final venture back to Phoenix.  We will really be feeling the time difference by the time we arrive back home.  Our travels started this morning at 5:45 a.m. Saturday in China, and we will arrive at about 6:30 p.m. in Phoenix on Saturday evening after almost 24 hours of travel.

I did my best to break up some of the posts to make them shorter and more convenient for everyone to read.  Let me say that everyone who took part in this trip can say it was one of the greatest experiences of their lives.  The things we saw, the places we visited, and the people we spoke with were all things that many people will never do in their lifetime.  Many won’t ever make to China to begin with.

I want to thank the Cronkite School, Professor Leckey, Dr. Wu, and the Reynolds Center for the role they all played in the creation and initial success of this program.  I hope to see it continue to grow so that students can continue to experience China, arguably the most important country not only in terms of our own future, but the future of the World.  Perhaps what was most interesting, was not only our excitement to be there, but also some of the Chinese peoples’ excitement that we were there.  Speaking with the students, as well as a number of Chinese businessmen and journalists, it is clear that they have a desire to understand us as much as we should have a desire to understand them.              This much I can almost guarantee, the majority of peoples’ opinion in the United States couldn’t be further from the truth about our neighbors to the east.  I encourage anyone with the opportunity to ever visit China to accept without hesitation, it is truly something you will not regret.

We will be creating a website and multimedia project as a group assignment and I will be sure to post the link to it once it is complete to give you an even greater insight into our two-week journey.  Until then it has been a pleasure, I hope you all enjoyed reading as much as I enjoyed writing, and thank you for your interest.  There will be one more post from Megan Thomas once again about our experience at Oriental Outlook, China’s equivalent to Time Magazine.